Famous Christians and Me

rob bell heretic famous christian

I’ve read a lot of religious books.

Specifically, I’ve read a lot of Christian books. (Can a book really be Christian? When did it convert?)

When I think of the authors of these books, I think of what faithful, interesting lives they lead. In order to write about God, I tell myself, you have to first be walking with God, talking with God, hearing him call you his own.

So as I sit here on the third floor loft of this 115 year old Michigan home, watching the wind whip snow through the street, I wonder how I could ever write about God. I don’t tour the country like Rob Bell, teaching people about how everything is spiritual. I haven’t sold a million copies of books like Lauren Winner. I don’t give away 90% of my income like Rick Warren.

In a sense I know this is OK. It’s unhealthy to compare yourself to others; everyone has their own thing, their own unique ministry and individual life. I know better than to get into the comparing game because even if I win, I lose.

But I can’t help but wonder about the seemingly large gap between myself and these other people. Perhaps it’s my grass-is-greener mentality coming through.

I’m looking out my window at a tree, an Indian restaurant, an ATM, a coffee shop. Where is God? Shouldn’t I be talking to him? Shouldn’t I be listening to him? Shouldn’t I go into the neighborhood and talk to people about the love of God?

Can I know God, worship God, have a meaningful life, a meaningful evening, a divinely-soaked experience here and now? In this ordinary life?

Francis Chan on Rob Bell’s Love Wins

Francis Chan has joined the ranks of Christians responding to Rob Bell’s recent New York Times Bestseller Love Wins.

Here is Chan’s video, with his book-length response coming this summer:

Chan has a genuine concern for the people involved; for him it’s not just a doctrinal issue, it’s a serious human issue, though his doctrine is much the same as several other Christian leaders who have disagreed with Bell’s book.

Unfortunately Chan commits a classic college freshman-level philosophical error. He points out (though not by name) that Bell is appealing to his own sense of right and wrong while he himself (Chan) is simply looking at the Bible. The glaringly obvious shouldn’t have to be pointed out, but since Chan bases much of his argument on this error, here it is:

Francis Chan is not unbiased. Rob Bell is not unbiased. Both Chan and Bell approach the Bible with conceptions of what God is like, and their reading of the Bible further shapes their understanding. Bell has searched the Scriptures and decided God is like this, while Chan has searched the Scriptures and decided God is like that. Neither are unbiased. Neither are relying only on what they think God is like or what they want God to be like.

Chan is saying that he’s just reading the Bible for what it says and taking God at his word, but this isn’t true at all, and here’s one of many reasons why: Jesus said that if your right eye causes you to sin you should gouge it out. Does Francis still have two eyeballs? Yes. So he is either disobeying Jesus or he doesn’t sin, right?

No, this passage must be interpreted. Chan has read the words of Jesus and interpreted that Jesus doesn’t actually mean what he says, not literally anyway. He gets to keep his eyeballs. Is Francis putting himself above God by saying, “Surely Jesus couldn’t have meant what he said?” No, he’s making interpretations.

This says nothing about Chan’s or Bell’s interpretations on Hell. It’s possible that Bell is completely wrong about Hell, but unfortunately the crux of Chan’s argument rests on a simple, blatant error: that he himself is simply reading the Bible and taking God at his word while Bell is only relying on his own mental faculties.

What Does Rob Bell’s Love Wins Reveal About Evangelicals?

Amidst all of the controversy surrounding Rob Bell and his book Love Wins, one thing has given me pause above everything else, and it involves the reactions from the Evangelical Christian world.

The release of this book is a good thing for Evangelicals, and here’s why:

Thousands of us are having our faith held under a light and exposed for what it is:

Fear.

It has become apparent that what has been masking as faith, as Christianity, for some of us for a very long time, is revealing itself in Twitter updates and Facebook links for what it really is:

We’re actually quite a frightened group.

Our theological systems, constructed over the years with bricks of books from authors we agree with, is being tampered with; holes are being poked in our houses of theology; a strange wind is blowing in and we don’t know what to do, and so we react in the only way we know how: attack. Make fun. Look to friends who are saying the same thing for affirmation.

“Defend” God and the Bible.

Who is this weak God needing defenders?

Amidst all the Scripture that comes to mind throughout this ordeal, one has continued to press upon me.

The setting: a few men were preaching about God in a new way, and this angered the religious gatekeepers of the day, the ones who defined Orthodox theology. So much, in fact, that they wanted them killed (they’re preaching heresy, afterall!)

And then something amazing happened.

One of the religious teachers, a man named Gamaliel, stood up to reason with his Orthodox clan. He did not point to the Scriptures in this instance; he did not cite Bible verses to back up his argument. He did not try to defend God. He simply said this: Brothers, before you continue in your tirade against these new teachers, carefully consider this:

“Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.  After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you might even find yourselves fighting against God.”

This is calming wisdom.

Not, “These are heretics!” (Though they may be)

Not, “These people are misinterpreting the Bible!” (Though they may be)

Simply this: Leave them alone. If this is not of God, it will pass away soon enough. But if by chance it is of God, your efforts are in vain. In fact, you may soon find that you could even be fighting against God.

Are there religious gatekeepers–that group that defines what Orthodoxy is–in our day?

Rob Bell’s Book “Love Wins” and NT Wright on Universalism

Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” was released on March 15, 2011.

Some people think he might be flirting with universalism. Some think he may deny hell. If the latter is true, he’d be going against a New Testament scholar he seems to admire more than any other: NT Wright. In this Youtube video Wright affirms and explains his view on hell. He ends with this:

“The choices you make here really do matter. There’s part of me that would love to be a Universalist and say, ‘It’ll be all right, everyone will get there [heaven] in the end.’ I actually think the choices you make in the present are more important than that.”

If Bell’s view in “Love Wins” is far from Wright’s he may lose a number of supporters who heretofore have largely considered him to be Evangelical.

Related:

Saved But Not Whole

“What happens when it all becomes about some other life is we end up being very fractured, broken people. I began to discover that you could be a Christian in a nice Christian church and be saved and be singing all the right songs and actually be miserable. And to have anger and rage and people you haven’t forgiven. I discovered it’s possible to be a super-Christian and yet salvation hadn’t even begun to (be) a part of your life. It’s possible to lead a church and to be like a shell of a person. I want to be the kind of person who’s pursuing wholeness and allowing every single area of my life to let the light get shone in, and let God make peace where there wasn’t (peace) before.”  –Rob Bell

“Though today some Christians believe that Jesus came to enable us to escape this creation and live eternally in an otherworldly and heavenly dwelling, such an understanding of salvation would have been entirely foreign to Old Testament prophets, to first-century Jews — and to Jesus himself.  Salvation is not an escape from creational life into “spiritual” existence: it is the restoration of God’s rule over all of creation and all of human life.  Neither is salvation merely the restoration of a personal relationship with God, important as that is.  Salvation goes further: it is the restoration of the whole life of humankind and ultimately of the nonhuman creation as well.  This is the scope of biblical salvation.” —The Drama of Scripture

What is Mars Hill About?

There’s risk in pointing out to the world one 15-second snippet of a 30-minute teaching.  There’s more risk when that teaching comes forth from a specific community rooted in a specific geographic location with a specific history.  And there’s even more risk when that community is often criticized either fairly or unfairly.

That being said, there are some people who are genuinely curious about what kind of place Mars Hill (Grandville) is.  The teaching from yesterday by an elder, David Livermore, gives an excellent, albeit brief, peek into what’s going on amidst the Mars Hill Community.

“Mars Hill is not first and foremost an edgy, cool, hip, trendy church.   Mars Hill is not first and foremost about Rob Bell.  Mars Hill is not first and foremost about our wonderful staff or our faithful volunteers.  It’s not first and foremost about some great guest speaker that we might have come in.  It’s first and foremost about Jesus.  Last I checked Jesus is still on the throne.  Jesus is still working here.  Jesus still has good things for us to be about.”

The entire podcast can be downloaded here.

Rob Bell Shares Gospel at Seeds of Compassion Event

At an event titled Seeds of Compassion on April 15 in Seattle there was a panel discussion involving representatives from different religions. Rob Bell, one of the Christian representatives, had this to say when asked how spirituality can be used for compassion rather than destruction:

“When somebody wrongs you, when they commit an injustice, when they do evil, whether it’s something petty or whether it’s the oppression of millions of people, it’s as if they have handed you this injustice, or evil. And so you can hand it back – that’s called revenge, that’s when you take the wrong, the evil, the injustice, the hurt, the betrayal, and you simply respond in kind. There is, next to revenge, another option, which is not to hand back the pain, which means that you’re going to have to bear that pain.

And when you choose not to respond with revenge or retaliation, but you choose to respond with forgiveness—and you choose to take it and bear that pain—it is going to be heavy, but it is going to lead to your freedom. It is going to feel like a death, but it is going to lead to a resurrection. It’s gonna feel like a Friday, but a Sunday is going to come.”

According to some, this was not a fitting response for a Christian because “there is nothing distinctly Christian about what Bell says.” The problem some will have with this opinion is that it assumes Christianity is tied to a certain language, and more specifically, to a few choice words rather than a way of life. The religion that says we must proclaim the name of Jesus continually, or to announce a certain sequence of words like “Jesus saves” or “Accept the Lord Jesus” is not based on the Scriptures but on a worldview that has little to do with the Jesus who walked along 1st century Israel’s dusty roads, and actually has more in common with witchcraft than with historic Christianity.

John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and founder of Desiring God Ministries, has this to say about preaching the gospel:

“It does no good to tell these people to believe in the Lord Jesus. The phrase is empty. My responsibility as a preacher of the gospel and a teacher in the church is not to preserve and repeat cherished biblical sentences, but to pierce the heart with biblical truth.”
(Desiring God pg. 55)

And on February 25, 2003, John Piper spoke these words at Northwestern College:

“We must imagine ways to say truth for what it really is, and it is not boring…The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth.”
(source)

So when Rob Bell paraphrases 1 Peter 2:23-24 at an interfaith discussion panel, is he denying Christ, or is he taking John Piper’s advice and calling up new connections to say old truth?

Rob Bell: (Emergent) is not a word we use

bell

Taken from a Premier.tv interview with Rob Bell

 

Premier.tv: Some people from the outside looking in would say that your church is perhaps characteristic of a lot of churches that are springing up in America, in England, around the world, based out of some sort of dissatisfaction with church as we know it and need to re-invent it somehow, and need to – you used the word “strip it down.”  Various terms are used: Emerging Church, Emergent Church.  Is Mars Hill, the church that you pastor, is that an Emerging Church?

Rob Bell: We don’t ever use that word because in our particular context, unnecessarily creating labels – are you in, are you out?  are you one of them or not? – seems to work against the spirit of Jesus.  We would much rather put out the bread and the cup and take communion together and talk about the Christ who unites us and who wants to heal each of us so that we can be his hands and feet in the world.  So I don’t really care what of these endless little stripes and labels you wear.  Can we all do this together? (mimes holding bread)  Can we all agree on that?  So yeah, that’s not a word we would use.

Premier.tv: But how do you feel when it’s used of you?  Would you feel uncomfortable with that tag?  I hear what you’re saying.

Rob Bell: Yes.

Premier.tv: Just because it’s a tag and you don’t want any tag.

Rob Bell: If it’s a tag that refers to those who are serious about what I would argue is central to the Christian faith, which is the endless hard questioning of what does it mean to be the people of Jesus here and now in this place, in this time – what does it look like to be the hands and feet in this city, in this day and age?  Well then that’s a conversation that’s not exclusive or even new to Emergent, and it’s the conversation that must endlessly be had with every community in every generation.  So if that’s what they’re talking about, great.  But if it’s some sort of group over here who believe they somehow stumbled upon the keys to everything and everybody else is clueless, well then that’s just simply not helpful at all.

Source: http://www.premiertv.twofourdigital.net//Premiertv.aspx?AssetId=31392cc1-460c-4db5-82a3-39edb88bea1a

Rob Bell’s November tour called the gods aren’t angry started November 5 in Chicago and concludes in Grand Rapids on December 2.  Bell’s tour from last summer, Everything Is Spiritual, was released on DVD this week.